2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts and Strategies | Tips for Answering Common Application Essays 2017 – 2018

With the 2017-2018 application cycle underway, here are the few tips and strategies to deal with the 2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts. The Common Application (informally known as the Common App) is an undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to any of 700 member colleges and universities in the USA, as well as in Canada, China, and many European countries. Apart from filling your personal details and uploading your transcripts and supporting documents, you need to write essays (college application essays), which play a vital part in the evaluation of your application. The current word limit for the Common App Essays is 650 words. However, you need to write minimum 250 words for each essay. Here are the seven 2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts along with strategies, pointers and general tips for each topic.

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts and Strategies

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

This is a standard diversity essay prompt. This essay is really about showing the admission officers how your background shaped your personality. You need to share a distinctive element of your background or upbringing. This prompt asks you to narrate a story that is core to your identity – a story about your personal growth, an unexpected friendship or maybe a chance encounter. This prompt gives you a lot of space for answering the question since you can write a story about your background, broad environmental factor, identity, interest, or talent.

You need to identify that one experience or personality trait that shows the kind of person you are. This is also a good opportunity to demonstrate your leadership qualities or determination to overcome challenges? You could also write about intellectual curiosity or artistic talent.

Everyone has more than one important trait, but in answering this prompt, you’re telling admissions officers what you think as your most significant quality. As long as it is central to who you are as a person at present, it’s a fair game.

But,  be careful with this prompt. Choose this prompt only if your background is so integral to your life that you really can’t imagine writing about anything else. This essay must be something that’s beyond the rest of your application.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This prompt invites you to share a failure. Ideally, you need to address two issues – how you handle difficult situations and whether you are capable of learning from your mistakes. In addressing this prompt, you have the opportunity to show admissions officers that you can deal with hardships without just giving up.

If you don’t feel comfortable with this prompt, don’t attempt it. If you haven’t got a significant failure to discuss, then move along a there are other topics to choose from. It’s far more comfortable in an application to celebrate successes and accomplishments than it is to discuss setbacks and failure.  A half-baked essay won’t take you anywhere after all. However, if you have a strong failure story, but struggling to put down your thoughts, then contact us. We can help you to brainstorm your ideas and craft your essay. Failure essays are the best ways to grab the attention of the admission officers.

If you are applying to your dream or reach schools, or if you need to leverage certain parts of your application, then this is your chance to stand out. You need to point out some underlying aspect of your character which you then identify (stubbornness, arrogance, nervousness or carelessness) as pointed out by Forster Thomas in his blog.

No, spilling a coffee is not the right kind of failure for your Common App Essay (Source)

You could talk about performing poorly at an interview and how that taught you to deal with your nerves. You could also tell about failing a class and how retaking it taught you better study skills. Alternatively, you may talk about something more dramatic – directing a school play when the set collapsed and how it taught you to stay cool under pressure and think on your feet.

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

This prompt basically asks you to demonstrate your leadership quality and personality. There are two ways to approach this particular prompt. Firstly, you need to talk about a time when you questioned a person or a group on an idea. Secondly, you need to talk about a time that caused you to reconsider a belief of your own. In either case, you need to explain what made you decided the belief should be challenged, and what you actually did. The “belief or idea” you would explore could be your own, someone else’s, or that of a group.

The question itself gives you a big hint – what prompted your thinking and they want to understand how your mind works. The catch is you need to tell a story on how you GOT to the impressive result – and what you thought about your action plan, what you did and how it led to that result.

The admission officers basically want to know what your values are and whether you’re willing to stand up for what you believe. If you have accomplished something that was exceptionally challenging for you and really shaped who you are as a person, this is your prompt.  However, you are just looking to brag about your killer grade in that AP classes or your five goals in the inter-school final match, this is NOT your prompt. You need to take a creative route for challenging a belief or idea.

Finally, remember it’s not only about you. You need to narrate an incident when you motivated other kids (or adults!). This prompt is really one where you either have a relevant story or you don’t. If there’s a belief or idea that’s particularly important to you, whether political or personal, this might be a good question for you to address.

Need help with this prompt? We are just a call/email away!

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

The first part is very straightforward: how “have you or would you solve a problem”? However, you also need to “explain its significance to you.” In other words, why this problem?

This prompt is somewhat based on the theme of transformation and growth and is well-suited for the students who are looking at to study STEM subjects. A laboratory experiment or a planned course of study fits into this prompt very neatly. But resist the urge to get completely technical and step outside your own experience! You need to jot down your challenges, your growth, and your maturity. You need to make sure you narrate a compelling and concrete explanation for why this problem is important to you and how you came upon the solution you’re proposing.

This prompt is a good choice for students who might have interesting experiences in unusual places and contexts– worked on a social issue or shadowed a scientist in the lab. Assume you want to fix the problem of illiteracy among the homeless orphans or unprivileged kids. First, you need to start with why this is a big problem in the society. Then you need to describe on telling a story about how you met children while volunteering at a local school, NGO or a homeless shelter that inspired your idea.

Caution: Be careful with that opening word “describe” – you’ll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This prompt is asking you to talk about something you did or something that happened that caused you to grow or mature as a person. Additionally, you need to explain how the incident influenced your understanding of yourself. You need to write about accepting the responsibilities, and limitations and joys of being a grown up individual. They want to know when and how have you grown as a person? Basically, this prompt wants you to talk about transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

It’s also worth noting the emphasis on understanding others. You need to write about how an event influenced your understanding of others. Surprising or difficult events often deepen our ability to empathize with others’ struggles – if you have a story that involves learning to see the world in a new way; this could well be your prompt.

You could talk about a milestone (say getting your driving license) or get out of your comfort zone (moving to a new place and getting accustomed at the new school, or starting at a boarding or summer school).

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

This is a brand new prompt. This prompt is asking you to describe something that you’re intellectually passionate about. You also need to detail how you have pursued expanding your own knowledge on the topic. Did you undertake extra coaching or online courses? In essence, it’s asking you to identify and discuss something that enthralls you – something that kicks your brain into high gear.

You can talk about the people who share your passion, or the ones who inspired it. Talk about the key moments in the development of your favorite hobby – how did it all begin, where do you see it going?  You need to relate it back to larger beliefs of your life. How has this experience helped you to grow and mature? You need to show that you have a genuine love for the pursuit of knowledge. Additionally, you need to demonstrate that you are self-motivated and resourceful. Finally, whatever topic you tell about, put it in an academic sense. This extra knowledge and resources can make you a special one in your class at the college. So, do put some genuine effort on this prompt.

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

This is what we call an open-ended prompt. You can do whatever you want with it, which most folks find utterly terrifying. This is sort of choose-your-own-adventure prompt. But, you should demonstrate some of the key qualities that admission officers look for in all college essays – academic passion, maturity, integrity, intellectual curiosity, values, compassion, interesting hobbies, persistence, ability to face obstacles and ability to overcome challenges. These are all things you can consider while working on this essay. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn’t quite fit into any of the prompts above.

Struggling with Your Common App Essays?

2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts and Strategies

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About Author Tanmoy Ray

I have got a Molecular Pharmacology background with 5 years of research experience in the fields of Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Biomarkers, and Drug Discovery. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India). Currently, I am working with Stoodnt Inc. as a Career Adviser & Admission Counselor. I can be reached at tanmoy.ray@stoodnt.com

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